Readers may or may not know a lot about mental illness, although it is estimated that one in four people in the UK will experience mental health issues each year.
A Kent therapy group communicated to KBL in April about their frustrations that their in-person mental health therapy had been halted since March 2020. They had gathered statements about their experiences of online therapy sessions during the lockdown periods. They were using these to petition to the authorities to re-start the regular in-person therapy sessions.Who benefits from in-person mental therapy groups
The mental health therapy group, run by NHS professionals, is for those with severe personality disorder. A letter about Covid was attached to their petition which included some official definitions:
“Deep-seated relationship difficulties, difficulties in affect management, maladaptive and potentially destructive coping mechanisms or high use of statutory services including crisis services.”
This service is for people with a sole diagnosis of a personality disorder. Not all members are referred prior to hospitalisation. Most are referred because symptoms of their personality disorder are making them too unwell and need intervention.
So it can be assumed that the group contains a variety of individuals suffering from such disorders. It is worth noting that Kent has been assessed as the English county with the highest incidence of such needs.
Lack of in-person mental health therapy causes distress
The extracts below are from the personal statements in the report:
Summary of the problems caused by lack of in-person therapy
The points below were all written by members of the group:
- Lack of privacy as members can’t discuss problems frankly, especially if these arise from the home environment
- Unstable group dynamics, with less opportunity to engage in challenging therapeutic discussion when members can easily log in and out
- Deterioration of practical routines for eating, preparing food, exercising, getting dressed, using transport etc
- Difficulties responding to members in crisis, with reduced time of online sessions, and the physical distance
- Technical problems with internet connections
- Over-reliance on e-contacts between members
- Unstable group, with members leaving or others, even some therapists, not attending
- Members have been denied other therapies because they are registered for this therapy which is not properly working
How in-person mental health therapy could resume safely
The report then details how therapy could resume in the usual premises. The reason the authorities had given for not resuming sooner was that the rooms were too small to allow for 2 metre social distancing. The writers of the report counter this by citing the government lockdown rules which allow for meetings of support groups of up to 15 individuals. Distancing of 1 metre is allowed provided other precautions are also taken.
The latest news from this group is that building services have now measured the building and there is adequate space to allow them to resume meeting there in mid-June – and would have been enough for them to have continued in-person meetings throughout lockdown!
Editor’s note: What I like about this submission is that it shows how patients do not have to remain passive. They can assume agency and group responsibility, even while suffering severe personality disorders. We salute with respect the person, or persons, who pulled this report together from a variety of people in therapeutic need.